Run it Back: No. 4 UCSB tops No. 8 Cal in highly-anticipated rematch

Ireland Wagner/Staff

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The rule of three. It’s a concept in Hollywood blockbusters, video games and other modes of entertainment. In short, it suggests things that come in threes are more satisfying than any other number of things. Sunday’s match was the third consecutive overtime game for Cal and the second time it lost to No. 4 UCSB this season, ending with a score of 13-10. But in the end, the result was far from satisfying for Cal.

At the Triton Invitational, where the Bears and Gauchos first met this season, UCSB prevailed in a low-scoring defensive standoff with a final score of 8-5. The second meeting between these two powerhouses featured far more scoring than the first. Both teams came out of the gates firing, with Cal freshman center Nikolaos Papanikolaou finding the back of the cage twice in the match’s opening period.

Meanwhile, the Gauchos’ sophomore driver Nathan Puentes picked up where he left off against the Bears when the two squads matched up in September. With 2:11 remaining in the first quarter, the ever-efficient Puentes got a shot past Cal’s freshman goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg.

It was the first of six goals for Puentes, who only needed six shots to score as many times. Weinberg, meanwhile, recorded 10 saves, the eighth time this season when he’s had that many or more.

By the end of the first half, the Gauchos held a 6-4 advantage, but the Bears had a fighting spirit. Senior attacker Safak Simsek earned one of his two scores just over a minute into the second half, cutting UCSB’s lead to a single point. The Gauchos — eager to sweep their season series against Cal — responded with a couple goals of their own, one from freshman driver Tommy Fellner and the other from junior utility Ivan Gvozdanovic.

The Bears again refused to surrender, despite trailing by three goals with only about 12 minutes to play. Redshirt senior attacker Jordan Hoover and sophomore utility Joe Molina each scored a goal to bring Cal back into striking distance to end the third quarter, by the end of which the Bears again trailed by one.

Cal entered the fourth quarter down a score, but after two power play goals, the Bears led 9-8 and had their first lead of the afternoon. But with 1:59 remaining in regulation, the Gauchos returned the favor, bringing the game back to a tie.

Cal had a pair of opportunities to win the game in the final minute and a half, but its last two shots missed the mark and the Bears found themselves headed for overtime once again.

The two overtime periods were dominated by UCSB, specifically Nathan Puentes. Puentes scored three times in the additional time, and Cal simply couldn’t match his offensive output.

For Cal, Sunday’s rematch with UCSB was a missed opportunity at avenging its prior loss to the Gauchos at the Triton Invitational in September. With that said, the Bears were much closer to coming out with a victory than they were in the first meeting, and there is much reason for optimism after such a close duel with the fourth-ranked team in the nation.

Cal travels to Los Angeles in its next matchup against UCLA at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Ethan Moutes covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].